Ah, the unique horror of the awkward confrontation.

We have returned from a Weekend With My Family! And we’re still alive. Join us in our rejoicing, won’t you?

My father was kind enough to pick us up, because we are carless and also saddled with a dog, who apparently is not allowed on the train because the MTA hates us. Once I recovered from the guilt of making my dad drive in just for us, I was quite pleased to luxuriate in air-conditioned comfort. Henry felt differently.

The problem, according to him, is that the car was “stinky.” There was an odor, you see. That he found disagreeable. Now, I have known stinky cars in the past—the great-uncle’s Cadillac that reeked of Pall Malls and hair tonic; the wet-dog stench of the hippy friend’s beat-up Chevy Nova –and I am here to say that my parents’ car is Olfactory Nirvana compared to those experiences. But try telling this to Henry! Go ahead, he won’t listen.

So. The car was stinky, he told us, repeatedly, without tiring of it. (This from a person who has no problem marinating in a pile of his own feculence for extended periods of time. But whatever.) “Turn the stink button off,” he commanded. I’m not sure who gave him this idea, about the stink button. Probably it was me. “Turn it off!” We complied, of course, and clicked the radio button on and off. “Okay, the stink button is off, Henry! No more stink!” And then he breathed deeply and let out an exasperated, “But it’s still stinky!”

In the midst of all this, I attempted to have a conversation with my dad about my and my siblings’ childhoods. Because when you have a child, a recurrent thought is, Holy Christ, was I like this? And my parents never left me on the side of the road? What were we like? I asked my father, and did we turn out like he expected us to? (“IT STILL STINKS!” the child in the back seat let us know. “STILL. IT STINKS. LET ME OUT OF HERE.”)

“Oh, well, your sister, she was always capable. Always. So smart and capable. And now I will go on at great length about your sister’s brilliance and innate ability to deal with anything life throws her way. “


Okay, so you know I’m paraphrasing. This is the usual line about my sister. How smart and independent she was! How she climbed out of the crib each morning and made my mother breakfast. I don’t know how my family has all convinced themselves of the truthfulness of this, but my son is pretty damn capable and he doesn’t have the coordination to pour himself cereal without drowning. So no, this isn’t true. But continue, father! Distract me from the child!

“And your brother, he was always consumed with one interest or another. Blah blah blah, he was so brilliant and complicated and perhaps difficult but mostly brilliant!”

You don’t believe me, that he said that? Really I’m not far off the mark.


So, what about me?

“Well. You were the youngest.”



“Well, you cried a lot. Always bursting into tears.”


And that, my friends, was the end of the conversation! I’m not sure why—maybe because Henry was distracting us with his stink-talk, or because we were nearing home, or maybe my dad didn’t feel like talking. But probably it was because my dad has nothing else to say about me, so great is his disappointment in his youngest child! That’s what I thought at the time, anyway! Whee!

Let’s fast-forward to the next day, when I finally told my dad how much this statement bothered me. Which I never would have done except I had already confided to my mother, who, traitor that she is, then told my dad I had “something to say,” and a person can’t very well not say something at that point. So I spit it out, and then cried all over my pizza.

My dad made some self-deprecating jokes and then looked stricken and attempted to right things as I continued to bawl and I thought what am I doing, confronting my poor recently ailing father who might drop dead on his salad right now and it would be my fault? . Eventually we cleared things up and it turns out he has other thoughts about me that are unrelated to the frequency of my tears! Hey!

All of which is to say that staying with my parents for any length of time seems to cause me to devolve into the Big Fat Crybaby of yore. I don't like it, but all I can do is ride it out.

And I hope when Henry’s an adult he'll have something meatier to bitch about than nonexistent car-stink.